The Sensitivity of the Spirit and Decision Making
Among the most formative experiences of my Christian life was a 5 year period of discipleship with my American friend, Paul. I edited and commented on the first draft of his manuscripts, which have now become two successful books, “Love Walked Among Us” and “A Praying Life.” He said in the former that he found his voice while working with me, and I am glad that happened. He was a skilled discipler– I guess an older tradition would have called it a spiritual director–and so we swapped spiritual direction for editing. He said, when we worked out our bargain, “Oh, I’ll come out ahead.” However, there is no doubt in my mind that I did that.
We studied Romans, Galatians and the Gospels over a period of 5 years, 1997 to 2002. Paul had written a 62 week study on the Gospels which I later taught, though not particularly successfully. And there was homework. Lots of questions every week. I used to fax in 5 to 6 typed pages of my answers to the essay type questions, I sometimes got to 10 pages. I loved it; it made me think, which is one of my favourite activities– just thinking.
In discipleship, or spiritual direction, one has to be honest (there is no sense going into it if one is not going to be as honest as it is humanly possible to be at that time. I get more honest about who I am each decade I live, as I care less about what people think of me.). So I handed in honest answers for a woman in her thirties.
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An issue which came up was what a scientist friend of mine calls “dynamic equilibrium.” Holding in balance the two elements of my life–my call to write, and my call to be a wife and mother. Once I start writing and thinking, it is very hard for me to shift gears to laundry, dishes, house-keeping. I would resolve to balance my life better as Paul and I chatted for the weekly hour; resolve and fail.
Anyway, in our sessions, I would resolve to be the perfect housewife. To surrender my writing to God. How long would that last? Not very long. And I would fax in pages of homework on Romans, Galatians, the Gospels, the doctrine of sonship, whatever we were studying. (Paul was a theologian).
Finally, Paul said to me. “Anita, you should publish your homework. Just as it is.” (You know, I might, if I can bear to look back at it, and at that young spiritually struggling woman.)
Then he said, “Anita, your insights are priceless. But if you do not obey what the Spirit is saying, God will take them away, and not give you any more.”
And that was that. He was silent. And so was I.
* * *
I was chilled. It was one of the most formative sentences anyone has ever spoken to me.
I took it on board. It is one of my core convictions. That the most dangerous thing I can do is ignore what the Spirit is saying. Is to say,” I will obey in a little while,” as one of my daughters says when I say it’s bedtime.
Because, as R.T. Kendall, says in a book I have been leafing through,” The Sensitivity of the Spirit,” the Spirit is a gentleman. He gets up and leaves very quietly when he is ignored. And the worst thing is, you don’t even realize that he has got up and gone.
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I have made many of the most significant decisions of my life because I heard the word of God telling me, sometimes in a clear memorable sentence, sometimes in an overwhelming impression, that that was what I had to do. I applied to (only!) the University of Oxford, when I lived in a small Indian town from where no one had gone to Oxford, because I heard God tell me to do that I decided to become a writer because I clearly heard the voice of God suggesting that I do that. I married my husband, who was then just a good, dear friend, because again of an inner impression that I believed (and believe, was from God. I also fell in love, of course, once we started dating.) I started a unusual business because I heard clear directives from God on how to go about it. And we both left the 9-5 work world, again because I heard that directive from God in prayer. I took up blogging 5 months ago, because I heard God suggest it on a walk on a beach in France in April this year.
All these decisions have been good. What is the price for being able to hear vital, helpful, time-saving, very beneficial and blessed directions? This is it. Sigh. That when God says, “Anita dear, yes, that would be a lovely blog post, I agree, but please could you help Roy out with that messy room he’s trying to order,” I don’t say “in a bit,” but obey now. So the dreary obedience is the price of the amazing, pyrotechnic suggestions that the fun-loving Spirit delights in sharing.
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On the subject of writing, my struggle was to surrender it to God, so that it was no longer MY writing. So that he could be my editor, literary agent, publicist. So that if was okay with me if I wrote loads of books, or none at all.
Praise God, that issue is no longer a live one in my life. How did that happen? Well, I had to give up my writing for a period of almost 4 years–May 2006 until early Jan 2010. And when God returned my writing to me in January 2010, it was transformed. I wrote in an entirely different style, diametrically different from the literary style I had loved and aspired to before. I now write quickly, easily and a lot.
And the issue of balancing housekeeping and writing is also no longer a live issue. I am still Mary, I cannot help it, I am too dreamy to run a family’s life, leave alone my own. This issue has also finally been resolved this year. I have decided to write full-time; we have had a role reversal, and my husband is going to keep our house running, our lives orderly and only work very part time. Peace at last!! Both of us are totally thrilled with this decision.)
I witnessed what I considered an injustice, and wrote about it on this blog (posts now deleted, incidentally). Unfortunately, my writing bore a more than accidental resemblance to people living and not dead. Was I right? Or wrong? Should my post remain up? Or be taken down? I could think of compelling reasons on either side. So could everyone who advised me. I had an inbox full of emails, encouraging me to leave it up, urging me to take it down. And I could not hear what the Spirit was saying. And so I vacillated in a most uncharacteristic way for I am usually a decisive woman, who can make up my mind and act very quickly.
* * *
I was telling my husband, Roy this morning, that I wish I had written down the reasons for and against both courses of action. I have used that way of decision making for over 25 years, since another spiritual adviser suggested it to me. Once the reasons for a course of action fill a couple of pages, and the reasons against it are slim (I include scriptural verses and principles in these columns), the commonsensical course is now clear.
Common sense is one element in discerning God’s will. One element. Not the only element, nor the crucial one. The crucial one, I believe, is what the spirit and the word say.
“Oh Roy,” I said. “I wish I had just written down the arguments for and against. My course of action would have been so much clearer.”
“Well,” he said, “The experience need not be wasted. You are a writer. Write a post about the wisdom and sanity of this method of decision-making. It will be an interesting post.”
And if it isn’t, friends, well, you know whom to blame!!